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Questions and Answers about Arthritis Pain

Weight Reduction

Excess pounds put extra stress on weight-bearing joints such as the knees or hips. Studies have shown that overweight women who lost an average of 11 pounds substantially reduced the development of osteoarthritis in their knees. In addition, if osteoarthritis has already affected one knee, weight reduction will reduce the chance of it occurring in the other knee.

Exercise

Swimming, walking, low-impact aerobic exercise, and range-of-motion exercises may reduce joint pain and stiffness. In addition, stretching exercises are helpful. A physical therapist can help plan an exercise program that will give you the most benefit. (The National Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse has a separate fact sheet on arthritis and exercise. See the end of this fact sheet for contact information.)

Surgery

In select patients with arthritis, surgery may be necessary. The surgeon may perform an operation to remove the synovium (synovectomy), realign the joint (osteotomy), or in advanced cases replace the damaged joint with an artificial one. Total joint replacement has provided not only dramatic relief from pain but also improvement in motion for many people with arthritis.

What Alternative Therapies May Relieve Arthritis Pain?

Many people seek other ways of treating their disease, such as special diets or supplements. Although these methods may not be harmful in and of themselves, no research to date shows that they help. Nonetheless, some alternative or complementary approaches may help you to cope or reduce some of the stress of living with a chronic illness. If the doctor feels the approach has value and will not harm you, it can be incorporated into your treatment plan. However, it is important not to neglect your regular health care or treatment of serious symptoms.

How Can You Cope with Arthritis Pain?

The long-term goal of pain management is to help you cope with a chronic, often disabling disease. You may be caught in a cycle of pain, depression, and stress. To break out of this cycle, you need to be an active participant with the doctor and other health care professionals in managing your pain. This may include physical therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, biofeedback, relaxation techniques (for example, deep breathing and meditation), and family counseling therapy.

Another technique is to substitute distraction for pain. Focus your attention on things that you enjoy. Imagine a peaceful setting and wonderful physical sensations. Thinking about something that is enjoyable can help you relax and become less stressed. Find something that will make you laugh -- a cartoon, a funny movie, or even a new joke. Try to put some joy back into your life. Even a small change in your mental image may break the pain cycle and provide relief.

The Multipurpose Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases Center at Stanford University, supported by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), has developed an Arthritis Self-Help Course that teaches people with arthritis how to take a more active part in their arthritis care. The Arthritis Self-Help Course is taught by the Arthritis Foundation and consists of a 12- to 15-hour program that includes lectures on osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, exercise, pain management, nutrition, medication, doctor-patient relationships, and nontraditional treatment.

You may want to contact some of the organizations listed at the end of this fact sheet for additional information on the Arthritis Self-Help Course and on coping with pain, as well as for information on support groups in your area.

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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